Saturday, January 30, 2016

Disappearing Brands

One of the frustrations of aging is when brands we have favored for years—make that decades—suddenly disappear from store shelves.

It took a long time for me to admit that I should color my hair. Even then it was because I was in job search mode. I was blessed with my mother’s skin, so my gray roots were the “tell” of the years I ‘d shaved off my resumé.

Since my hair is short (and I was also blessed with my father’s Teutonic frugality), I would split a package of hair dye into two uses. I color my roots after each haircut, which is to say every five weeks, so a box lasts me ten weeks. Since I shop the sales, I used to buy two to four boxes at a time. Doing the math on averages, that put me in the hair color aisle about twice a year. I liked to keep a box in reserve, so I’d start looking a month or so before my stock ran out.

Last Summer I noticed that my brand, Clairol Natural Instincts, was frequently on sale, but the slot for my color, #28 Nutmeg, was always empty. Sadly, I didn’t recognize the warning signs of a disappearing brand. By the time my supply ran out completely, not only was Nutmeg missing, but in most stores, Natural Instincts was gone altogether.

Most of my women readers will understand immediately the cold frisson of panic that crept up my spine. What to do? I had chosen NI Nutmeg on the advice of my niece, Pam. “Start with semi-permanent dye until you see how you like it.” And then emphatically: “Don’t get anything with red in it! No auburn overtones. No red undertones. Just plain dark brown.”

Don’t those manufacturers realize the havoc they sow when they discontinue a popular color, much less an entire product line? Since my hair is a lot grayer now than when I started coloring it, I decided to try a permanent brand. That led me to Revlon’s ColorSilk. I wanted to punish Clairol for putting me through this, but I also wanted to stay as close to #28 Nutmeg as possible. ColorSilk offers #27 Deep Rich Brown (no mention of red), so I grabbed one.

That was just the beginning of my hair coloring adjustment process. When I opened the box at home, I discovered that ColorSilk bottles are opaque. Natural Instincts were semi-transparent. By keeping a spare empty on handy, I could easily split the color activator in half. Not so for ColorSilk.

This was getting too involved for my liking. I decided I’d mix the entire bottle this time and throw out whatever was unused. I could picture my father turning over in his grave because of the waste.

It seemed like a good idea to read the instructions for the new product to see what I might have to do differently. The first thing that caught my eye was how long the mix stays on the hair. Half an hour! That’s ten minutes longer than the semi-permanent dye. I can deal with that. There are a handful of things I can do without glasses (which would get hair dye on them). Actually, not a handful. More like one or two, but OK.

Further reading says after you pour the colorant into the activator bottle, be to be sure to shake until the two are well mixed. Hello! The bottle is opaque. How am I supposed to know when they’re well mixed? I counted two minutes, same as for the old product, and hoped for the best.

I kept reading the instructions to find out if any other surprises awaited me. Sure enough. After a half hour I’m supposed to run some water through my hair, gently work the product all the way down to the ends, then immediately wash the dye out.

I’m no expert, but wouldn’t it make more sense to work the product down before the half hour is up? What possible benefit can this work-through have if I’m going to rinse it right out? Turns out, not only is there no benefit, but there’s also added aggravation. Why? Because I’m supposed to keep the protective gloves on for this process.

Let me see if I have this straight. Put the product on my hair. Leave on the dye-stained gloves. Sit motionless for one half hour. Gently do a wet work-through with gloves on. Take gloves off and immediately rinse thoroughly.

I dutifully, if begrudgingly, followed all the steps, and guess whose hair came out with reddish overtones? I think you know who will be buying another brand in five weeks. I’ll probably give L’Oreal a try. Because “I’m worth it.”

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